Writing Speculative Fiction: A Nerd's Guide (AKA Speculative Faction)
"Il futuro e adesso." -(Italian for: "The future is now".)
Greetings, everyone. Just wanted to officially kick off the revising of an old column of mine. This column was formerly known as "Science Fiction for Dummies," an informal and satirical rant, but I'm going to make the title more original.
A lot of the previous entries to this column are quite misinformed, wrong, poorly edited, and just plain crappy (in terms of some scientific facts and tech). Why? Because I writing started in high school. As someone who's studied engineering of different sorts at a grad level for years, I'm going to give it a kick in the ass. When I started, there was no wonderful TV Tropes, so I will be posting some relevant tropes to check out.
Before, my intention was to get hard science fiction (or at least harder science fiction) a bit more attention. My aim was to show a lot of the tropes at home in other types of fiction (yes, even "mainstream" ones) can benefit from the thorough, comprehensive world building that hard science fiction entails.
For instance, a murder mystery may be given a new twist if detectives must discover the nature of some new, nasty type of poison (or bio-engineered pathogen). They would do well to find out the strengths and limits of the nasty germ, and use this to catch the bad guy. Imagine our detective saying something like: "It's elementary, dear Watson, that the killer must have understanding of a rare branch of microbiology." Making up a science fiction-styled ideology or religion might provide an interesting group of political extremists or cult in a more realistic setting. Truth is stranger than fiction, which means any fiction writers have to work hard to keep up. Likewise, what is "fantasy" and "science" can be a thin line. Writing about an Aztec warrior seeing Spaniards in battle for the first time might as well be magic to them.
Before I move onto some fun topics, I'm going to list some of the columns I think I worth keeping, and alter the sequence a bit. Hope you find it helpful!
A Brief History of Science Fiction: A more appropriate way to start things off. This covers the six major movements of science fiction, and notable works and tropes associated with each.
(Old) Introduction: Not very useful and full of lame attempts at humor.
(Old) Basics of Creativity: An attempt at brainstorming a simple story and an outline of the creative process.
(Old) Drop and give me 20! Military scifi: A quick intro to military science and some ideas.
(Old) Steaming Mad: Explains the terminology of steampunk, a sort of retro sci-fi in the vein of Jules Verne and HG Wells.
(Old) Long Time Gone: Post-historic: Explains post-historic, a sci-fi niche genre similar to Jack Vance's Dying Earth series where superscience and magic blur towards the end of time.
(Old) Special Column: Explains a few minor villain clichés, but nothing major.
(Old) Off the Deep End With Depth: Just how much depth and detail do you want in your story, and how to avoid infodumping.
(Old) Shrugging Off Project Atlas: An analysis of the creative process applied to my story Project Atlas.
(Old) Fantasy, Scifi, and the Fallacy of Genre: Why it is stupid to stick to clichés of fantasy and science fiction.
(Old) Villains and Vileness: A more in-depth analysis of antagonists and villains.
(Old) All Guns Blazing: Different sorts of weapons and firearms you can use, and how you can use them.
(Old) Alien Racial Profiling: How to avoid making aliens according to clichés, such as "a race of traders" or a "race of lawyers." Covered in much more depth later in "Xenogenesis."
(Old) Human Stereotypes In Space: How to avoid ethnic and other types of vile stereotypes.
(Old) A Myth of High Technology: High tech doesn't always mean victory or success, and here's why.
Tactics For Dummies: A basic list of military terminology, such as how logistics is important, and the (Old) differences between tactics and strategy.
(Old) Oh, The Horror!: Some horror clichés and suggestions on improving them. Covered much better in "Supernatural Selection."
(Old) Does Not Compute: Stereotypes and misconceptions involving computers and artificial intelligences. The "Transhumanism" section covers many topics here better.
(Old) Dawn of a New Age: How to avoid New Age crap when writing about the supernatural and that beyond what puny humans know. There's also a rant on why New Age fanatics suck.
Historical Revisionism 101: History can be written so that certain facts are minimized and left out. Here's how your revisionist historians can hide the past, or work to expose the truth. Also fun with the "Conspiracy Theory" section.
(Old) Getting a Kick: Dispelling myths about martial arts, as well as a list of several common styles. Also, instructions on making your own, and why to put martial arts in your stories.
Size Does Matter: Nanotech: Nanotech is a technology that often is distorted through fiction. This chapter is dated, though useful at explaining common myths and terms. Notable technologies I missed here were nano-factories (vats of chemicals that have nanobots creating a schematic you need), and I overestimated the threat of Gray Goo (runaway nano-replicators that can theoretically eat anything). Bacteria can theoretically eat anything, but environmental constraints, predators, and limited food keep their ranks from consuming the entire world. Nanobots are not indestructible, and ecophagy isn't as bad as some technophobes make it out.
(Old) Favorites: A list of some of my favorites. The formatting got messed up, and most of those writers aren't even on FP anymore.
(Old) Keeping Pace: This is just a quick bit on how to properly pace your story, and some good music to listen to while writing different types of scenes.
(Old) Space War: Physics in space are much different than Star Wars. For once, I'd like to see spaceships move like spaceships, rather than naval battleships in the void, or worse, WWII airplanes that make sounds in the void. This explains some good ways to put good physics and logical space tactics on. After all, three dimensions and no gravity and no air drag makes for fun dogfights. Still, it ain't likely humans can even physically withstand the g-forces involved without some kind of device.
(Old) A Short Word: Quick reflections on sci-fi and nothing really interesting here.
Mechanics 101: Here, I go into the basics of engineering, and how a handful of modern devices and social structures work. Did you know, for instance, that planning a device beforehand reduces the cost of materials and construction time than just throwing random parts together? Engineers in science fiction need to do more engineering for once.
(Old) Let's Play Fantasy!: Basic fantasy world building, and how to avoid some more common world-making clichés.
Culture Shock: Want some inspiration and suggestions for making your own cultures? This chapter also contains a list of overused real cultures and some that would be fun to explore.
Logical Alien Invasion: How an alien warlord should invade Earth (or any inhabited planet) for once. Why send down troops to an ecosystem your biochemistry doesn't agree with, when you can blast them from orbit?
Utopian Dreams: This explains why certain social orders don't work, such as socialism. It also explains some common uses for idealistic political visionaries, and how to crash their social orders against the rocks of reality. It also explains why Tolkien is a racist Nazi fuck. This attracted the most flames of any other section.
The Conspiracy Theory: Here, I go into different types of conspiracies, and (mostly) fictional examples of secretive conspiracies, societies, and cults. I also explain some organizational concerns on making a "realistic" conspiracy, and why Dan Brown's novels are so predictable. Why write the next DaVinci Code when you can blow it out of the water? The truth is out there…
Mechanical Jams: This chapter I explore cliché devices that don't work, and that are so impractical, they suck. For instance, orbital lasers, giant tombs, giant robots, and emo kid soldiers are discussed. Especially emo kids in giant robots.
Colonizing The Galaxy: Many writers simply assume humans settle in colonies without mentioning how. Here, I explain some good ways to settle your sci-fi galaxies through self-aware machines. How, is a question I leave to you to answer.
Transhumanism for Dummies: Transhumanism is a philosophy that states technology can be used to upgrade and improve humanity as we know them. It can be used for good or evil, and there's many ways to upgrade we fleshbags, from cybernetics to genetics to nanotech. It also explains different currents and schools within the transhumanist movement.
Supernatural Selection: Here, I go over modern fantasy and the supernatural genre, and different ways to use them, as well as make more common creatures unique. It's time for something other than angsty emo vampire stories.
The Uprising: Different sorts of rebellions. I cover political activism to terrorism to guerrilla warfare and then some, as well has how they differ and overlap. A good story to look at with lessons here applied is The Infowar, as well as the Infowar forum.
Xenogenesis: Alien and Fantasy Races: This is a comprehensive chapter on how to make alien species and fantasy races that are unique and memorable. Haven't you had enough of elves, Vulcans, and Tolkien races?
Economancer: Fantastic Economics: Economic and social issues in science fiction and fantasy are often sadly overlooked.
Superheroes: Up, Up, and Away!: An introduction to superheroes, their history in the pulps, and their evolution over time. Also, common origins and powers are also covered.
Engineering for Noobs: Basics of engineering, and why sound design of technology is a requirement for a lot of stories. If you have a fictional technology, understand its strengths, weaknesses, and applications.
Reality Hurts: The Case for Realism: Ironically, this is me noting how bizarre and interesting real stuff can be. I list a few things that are stranger than fiction (and more interesting), plus some trends in technology and science to watch for.
Guns: An Appendix and History: I cover a topic I enjoy to the point of obsession: Guns. I cover mostly modern guns, some rudimentary tactics, types, and notable models. I also list major nations and interesting guns they've produced.
Ecotech: Green Machines: In which I describe a number of eco-friendly technologies and how they may also be used on alien worlds for terraforming. Terraform, baby, terraform!
Real Pulp Fiction: Retro Vibes: A few notes on the origins of speculative fiction (and more) in the pages of the pulps. Written in character as a certain mad scientist from some of my short stories.
Artificial Intelligence for Noobs: Clearing up some of the definitions, confusion, and real life basis for artificial intelligence, artificial general intelligence, and current research. Also includes a few of my favorite instances in popular media of AGI, AI, and the like.
Missile Massacre: Black Powder and Early Ranged Weapons:I discuss the history and development of black powder firearms, ranged combat, types of early ranged weapons, and why melee combat fell by the wayside.
There will be more to come!